There’s a longstanding argument in my family: whether salmon patties should or should not (and, also, do or do not) include onions.
(Spoilers: Mine do. Sorry Dad.)
My grandfather was a southern boy and to him salmon patties required just two ingredients: salmon and saltine crackers. The first time my great-grandmother invited him to dinner, she crafted an elaborate but comforting meal including macaroni and cheese and salmon patties. Salmon patties with onions.
My mother and father have been arguing, playfully, for years. My father is adamant that there are no onions in salmon patties. My mother, who makes them, contends with absolutely certainty that she does, in fact, put onion in the patties.
When I first started cooking, I made an elaborate version of salmon patties with lime zest, dill and scallions. After going gluten-free, I couldn’t make the traditional patty held together with saltine crackers and dusted in all purpose flour. I discovered that mashed potatoes made an excellent binder (no need for eggs, flour or crushed up crackers), and also helped to make these more economical for weeknight meals as I was working my way through college.
Salmon patties are one of my go-to comfort food recipes when I’m feeling homesick, or need a quick meal that I know by heart. It’s also infinitely adaptable. Lime or lemon zest jazzes it up, and mayo can be added to the mix for an extra bit of indulgent, buttery flavor. Add chopped fresh dill, parsley, chives or a dash of Old Bay seasoning. Or, keep it simple like my grandfather, and stick with salmon, potatoes and saltines. Just don’t forget the scallions. (I promise, they’re worth it.)
When I was a kid, we ate salmon patties with ketchup and a side of oven fries. Since this recipe combines the two, I usually serve these with a big green salad or veggies like broccoli or asparagus. Pickles are also good here. (But let’s be honest here, when aren’t pickles good?) The aioli is a fun addition, but not necessary. These are equally good with a dollop of ketchup or plain mayo whisked with some lemon juice, chopped chives and horseradish.
Living in Seattle has provided us access to plenty of fresh, diverse seafood. We buy salmon at the farmers market, so I use fresh salmon in this recipe. If you’re in a rush or the salmon at your grocer just doesn’t look its best, this recipe is definitely doable with canned salmon. That’s how my mother made it while I was growing up.
You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces. Just good food from fresh ingredients.
— Julia Child
These might not be a masterpiece, but they’re good. One of the best. One of those recipes that will be with me forever. I’ll share its story with my children, and so it will continue as a source of comfort and connection.
Gluten-Free Salmon and Potato Patties with Horseradish Chive Aioli
For the patties:
12 ounces Yukon Gold or new potatoes
12 ounces salmon filets
4 scallions, white and light green parts minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
Cornmeal or flour for dusting
For the aioli:
1 pastured large egg yolk
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup canola or extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon prepared horseradish (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon chopped chives
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat your oven to 425°. Pat the salmon filets dry. Season both sides with salt and pepper. Lay a piece of parchment paper or foil on a baking sheet. Place the seasoned filets skin-side down on the sheet. If you want to infuse a bit more flavor into the fish, lay a thin slice of lemon and a few chives spears on top.
The general rule of thumb is to bake salmon for 4-6 minutes per half-inch thickness. Most filets are usually close to one inch thick, so check your fish around 8 minutes to see if it flakes easily with a fork. If not, continue to roast and check every few minutes. The fish should be opaque and tender, but watch carefully so it does not overcook. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the filets to cool slightly. Flake the fish, pulling it away from the skin, and put the meat in a bowl. (Discard the skin.) If you’re using canned salmon, you can skip this step. Instead, make sure the fish is drained, rinsed, and flaked.
While the salmon is roasting and cooling, prepare the potatoes and make the aioli.
Chop the potatoes, place in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Add a generous pinch of salt and set the pan over medium heat. Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes until they are fork tender (about 10-20 minutes). Drain and mash. Add a dash of milk or water in which the potatoes boiled so they don’t dry out. Cover the pan and set aside.
To make the aioli, add the egg yolk, mustard and lemon juice in a blender and blend until combined. With the motor running on medium speed, very slowly drizzle in the olive oil. The olive oil should be poured in at a dribble at first, just a few drops at a time, and continue in a very slow, thin stream. Blend until the mixture is creamy and emulsified. Pour the mayonnaise out of the blender and fold in the prepared horseradish and chopped chives. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until you’re ready to eat. (The mixture may get thicker as it chills. Consume any leftover aioli within a week.)
Mix the flaked salmon and mashed potatoes together. Add the green onions and chives. Season with salt and pepper. Add a generous amount of cornmeal or flour to a deep, wide bowl or plate for dusting. (I like to use cornmeal because it provides a nice texture and crunch without creating a crust that’s too tough.) Use your hands to form palm-sized patties that are just a little less than 1 inch thick and dust both sides with cornmeal. (Keep in mind that I have small hands. If you have larger palms, make your patties slightly smaller. They should be 2-3 inches in diameter. The smaller size helps them to hold together better.)
Heat about one tablespoon of oil (canola, olive or coconut) in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add your dusted patties to the pan. You might need to work in batches depending on the size of your skillet. Let the patties fry on one side until they are easily loosened from the pan, about 4-6 minutes. If you go to move a patty and it seems stuck to the pan, give it a bit more time to cook. They should release without force when the side is browned and crisp. Flip the patties over and cook the other side for another 4 minutes or so until golden brown. Set the cooked patties aside. Gently and carefully wipe out the pan in between batches and add fresh oil to avoid burning any bits of cornmeal or flour that came off of the patties. Repeat with any remaining patties.